The One with the Hawaiian Bungalow

Dr. Temple Grandin thinks in pictures. She was diagnosed with autism as a child and, for many years, assumed everyone processed thoughts this way. “Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures.”

I find that incredibly fascinating. Being so word-centric, it’s hard to imagine thinking solely in images. I suppose babies, before they acquire language, process the world around them in much the same way. And when Reggie thinks happy thoughts, he probably has images of belly-rubs and bacon dancing through his mind.

Dr. Grandin says, “As a person with autism, I have the typical profile of an area of great skill and an area of difficulty. Algebra was impossible because there was nothing to visualize, but I excelled at art.”

I never showed an aptitude for visual art. My elementary school art teacher kindly suggested I could read rather than inflict my “art” upon the class. I failed utterly at Pictionary. Even my doodles were words rather than pictures.

I just assumed that, unlike Dr. Grandin, my skill was telling stories in words, not pictures. My job is to communicate what my novel’s characters are thinking, feeling and doing.  I’m visualizing these characters and their interactions, but I’m still using words. Lots and lots of words. Sometimes searching for just the right word or phrase will annoy me more than a big, fat fly who won’t leave my apartment.

SketchesThen there was an unexplained shift. I recently found myself sketching images on little Post-Its and napkins. Just a few minutes here and there when I needed a break at work. And then I was at Pearl Paints in Chinatown buying tubes of burnt sienna and Filbert brushes. Then I read Caitlin Kelly’s post about twenty things that make her happy, one of which is her dance class:It’s such a delicious relief to leave words and speech behind, to sway and bend and spin and twist with others.” The reason why I was drawing and painting dawned on me: I needed to escape words for a little while.  It was the perfect respite for my overtaxed left brain, kind of like taking a deep, cleansing breath. I could go ten or fifteen minutes without a single word entering my mind. That may be the norm for Temple Grandin, but for me, it is nothing short of miraculous. So I’d like to share with you the progression of my opus from blank canvas to almost done. I call this “Hawaiian Bungalow.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m completely self-taught. I know, right! I can see your jaw hitting your desk in shock. How is that possible, you’re wondering.  I’m here to tell you that it is absolutely true. Never had one lesson. Unless you count some episodes of Bob Ross and an ill-advised Groupon purchase.

Okay, between you and me, I’m not delusional. I know that this painting is one peg shy of absolutely terrible. An average six year old could do a better job. But it’s okay.  Who says that you can only do things you’re good at? In fact, I’d contend that doing something poorly is the most freeing feeling in the world. No expectations. No pressure. Since I don’t need to be the next O’Keeffe or Picasso, I can break all the rules. Heck, I don’t even know the rules, and I don’t want to know them. I’d like to maintain a state of wordlessness when I paint or sketch. I could take a painting lesson, but then I’d be worried about “doing it right” and painting would become another area in my life where I Must Improve.  I don’t want that. I want to suck.

However I’d like to leave you with an artist who most certainly does not suck. Someone who is incredibly talented. Meet Imi Woods. She paints beautiful animal portraits like the ones below. These are notecards of her paintings that I purchased through her new Etsy store where she’s just getting started in the business side of things. I remember reading that a portrait of a penguin took her 50 hours, but that painting “quiets my mind and fills me with a sense of calm.”

Imi Woods Note Cards

Imi Woods Note Cards

What quiets your mind? What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about “being good”? 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Advertisements

36 comments

  1. I am so, so thrilled to see you drawing and painting–and especially your realizing that you can break the rules! I am a TOTALLY self-taught “artist.” I don’t know what I’m doing. I just do.

    And I’m fascinated by what you say about art as a way to escape from words. I wonder if that’s what it is for me–though I do use language in my collages.

    Still, this is wonderful post and delightful development. Love the bungalow! And I totally can’t wait to see more. When you come to Cuenca, we can do some art together.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    Like

  2. Fun stickynote doodles. How great to find something to pour creativity in that isn’t wordy. Not that wordy is fabulous, but yeah, wordy types tend to have busy, buzzy minds. 🙂

    I’m in the midst of reading Grandin’s latest book, The Autistic Brain. I’ve been following her journey since Oliver Sacks wrote about her. She’s a fascinating lady.

    Stuff that quiets my mind: meditation, dance, gardening

    Like

    1. I’ve been building a regular meditation practice for months, but I still struggle with “monkey mind” I hope to get to the point where I can string a few moments together when my mind is clear of all thoughts. I can imagine how your garden is another respite from words. You grow wonderful things there! I’d love to have a garden someday!

      Like

  3. I can’t believe you saw my jaw drop. I’m a little bit embarrassed, but it was worth it.

    This post delivered one of those moments of synchronicity that fascinate me about this life we’re all sharing. I love when that happens.

    Your painting IS truly great, especially because of the process and your experience. I love walking around in art stores and imagining that I could take all those materials and use them to create something, but I know myself well enough to realize I would get them home and set up a lovely art supply display that would go unused. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.

    Like

      1. After I got all the paints, etc. home from the art supply store, I chastised myself: what am I doing? Why did I spend good money on all this stuff!?! It all sat in the closet for a while. And then one day…I don’t know why but I got it all out and just started mixing colors on a plastic plate. So, go ahead — get your paint on.

        And, let me see…right now you’re at your computer, just about to click your mouse. 😉

        Like

  4. Thanks so much for the link — and LOVE your painting! It’s charming and lovely and good for you! I have a house filled with art supplies I never (WTH?) use. That’s crazy — paint and paper and colored pencils. I did take a colored pencil class in fall 2010 and loved it so you’ve inspired ME now. 🙂

    Like

    1. I really enjoy your posts. You always give me something new to think about. I doubt I would have made the connection between why I was sketching / doodling and how much I needed to make space in my brain for wordlessness. Thank you for that!
      I hope you take out those colored pencils and enjoy creating.

      Like

      1. Thanks!

        I think because we all swim in a sea of words — spoken, heard, written — ALL the time, it’s as though we are (probably) unaware of totally dependent on them we become. I did a silent retreat for 8 days (!) in the summer of 2011 and it changed my POV forever. Words became a choice.

        Like

      2. I have never thought of that: words are a choice. So well said!
        I’d love to try a silent retreat. Eight days seems intimidating but probably necessary to fully “detox” from words. Would you go again if you had the opportunity?

        Like

  5. Good for you! And I remember Bob Ross! Keep up the painting. I used to draw but haven’t in years. Maybe I should pick it up again. As for me I like to go for walks, sit in a pub, and I find myself sitting on my couch doing absolutely nothing a lot lately. Not even sure I’m breathing, but I must be 🙂

    Like

    1. Downtime is a good thing. (A great thing, actually!) Besides I love when you take us along on your trips to the pub and strolls around your neighborhood. I bet Miles loves it too.
      If you do decide to paint, I hope you’ll put a happy little tree over here. 🙂

      Like

  6. One peg shy of a six-year-old – what do you mean? That’s a GREAT painting! I’m really impressed.

    I used to like to draw, but my inability to do it really, really well made me give up on it many, many years ago. I wonder if I could get out my art supplies and have fun with it, or if this stupid perfectionism would keep me from enjoying it.

    I’m alone for the weekend, and you’re inspiring me. Hmmmm.

    Like

    1. I should have said one Peg-O-Leg shy… 🙂
      Young children don’t often care how “well” they’re doing at something. They’re just enjoying themselves and having fun. I’ve been trying to channel my inner child. I hope you get your art supplies out this weekend and paint like you were a six year old.

      Like

  7. Jackie, I love this! Everyone needs a break from things they love. Especially when what they love is turning from a hobby into a job. I love your step by step guide of your painting – it’s great! and very clever to put it in a slideshow gallery – why did I never think of that?!

    I am glad you love your notecards 🙂 It is so nice to see them flee from their nest in my room into the real world :-).

    Like

    1. I learned how to create the grid pattern on the canvas from your how-to posts. I’m always amazed at how you turn a blank canvas into something so beautiful. Someday I would love to see one in person!
      I love, love my note cards so much, I don’t know if I’ll be able to send them out. 🙂

      Like

      1. Haa oh how funny! I thought I recognized the grid when I was watching, then thought “imi don’t flatter yourself!” One day I will exhibit in New York. Just you wait :-). I have been identifying galleries that I’d love to show in near here. I hope one day I can take over the world!!

        Like

      2. I have every expectation that someday soon I’ll be walking by a gallery on Prince Street in the Village and see your paintings hanging on the wall! Wouldn’t that be fantastic!? You’ll have to autograph my note cards for me. 🙂

        Like

  8. I think you’ve hit a really important point about allowing yourself to do something poorly. It even applies to writing which I’d like to think I CAN do well when I focus. But sometimes the pressure to produce well all the time is completely stifling. Would be better to do what Anne Lamott suggest more often, which is to allow for “sh*%tty first drafts.”

    Like

    1. I really took Anne Lamott’s words to heart. We have to give ourselves permission to do something that we consider “poor” because we’re always worried about what other people will think / judge us. Part of posting these paintings / doodles and my photo shoot is to break the negative cycle. You all have been so kind to respond with such warm words of encouragement.

      I always think your writing is top notch. Not many people can write about their own life with such clarity and tap into the universality of the experience, but you do!

      Like

  9. I tend to do my blog stuff on Mondays and Wednesdays… but I was so excited by the comment you left me about your painting that I had to check it out early (I even jotted down an on-the-hand note to jog my awful memory)… and I’m happy that I did! I’m very early in the process of learning how to paint, (so take my thoughts for what they’re worth), but I am very, very impressed by your work, Ms. C! And for having never even taken a painting class before… that’s wonderful! Truly! I really, really hope you keep at it – particularly if you find it as relaxing as I do (and as far as ‘rules’ go, artists I trust have told me once you learn the ‘rules’ to break them – so I hope that helps keep you ‘free’ and having fun)!
    I can relate to the visual thing, too. Usually, when I’m attempting to describe something, I see my poor listener(s) starting to cringe / attempting to decipher my cryptic rambling (as I look around for any scrap of paper I can draw on). I really wish I had your way with words (struggling with verbal communication is often very, very frustrating for me – and embarrassing, too).
    🙂

    Like

    1. That is so kind of you SIG! I am really touched that you made a special trip here to look at my painting. I know very little about composition and even less about the technical aspects of the paint (acrylics), but I do find it very relaxing. It takes me out of myself. I would love to see one of your paintings in person. They look so amazing on the computer screen, but I bet that doesn’t do them justice.

      I did have some intention that the light was coming from the left. and the porch overhang was shading the door and the steps which is why that area is supposed to be in shadow. Ha! But I think the door was the best feature. I’m also pleased with my little Post-It doodles. I know they’re not much but this is from someone who can’t draw a stick figure.

      Thank you for the encouragement. I was worried people would think I was over the edge for posting the painting. 😛

      Like

  10. Jackie, I am artistic and let me tell you, that painting is not terrible! I’m blown away by how you were able to mix the colors and come up with such richness. Painting is actually very hard for me because I do worry about getting it wrong. I’d love to have your attitude towards it.

    Like

    1. That is so kind of you to say, Carole! I’m thinking of taking up abstracts because then there’s no telling if it’s “right” or “wrong” 🙂
      One thing I would like to learn a little more about is color mixing in a more efficient way. I end up wasting too much paint to get to the color I’m looking for.
      From your wonderful photos, I bet you have a real eye for color and composition.

      Like

      1. When I took a painting class, I thought of keeping a notebook so I’d know how I got a certain color, but it seemed like too much work and no one else was doing it. I learned to mix more than I thought I’d need and that helped a lot.

        Like

      2. I’m trying to get more experience with a sense of how much mixing it will take to get to the color I want. Sometimes I don’t mix enough and then I have a hard time getting back to that color. That’s a good rule of thumb that I should mix more than I think I need.

        Like

  11. This is a very thought-provoking post, Jackie. This summer, my mind has been screaming and I have not been very motivated to do what I like most: write. I’ve been working a lot at The Grind and doing writing-work after hours which I’ve mentioned to you privately. I think the combination of the two may have contributed to my overall fatigue. Your style of painting has an almost Grandma Moses quality in its simplicity, but at the same time your way with color does not strike me as simple in the least. As long as painting inspires you, I say stick with it. Like Peg-O-Leg, I used to draw, but I quit close to 25 years ago. It’s a skill that atrophies and not one I’m inclined to try again. If I could do something without the worry of being good at it, it would be play an instrument — something I have zero aptitude for.

    Like

    1. I can completely relate to that in editing vs writing. Although I very much enjoy editing, which I’m mired in right now on my first novel, I really can’t wait to get back to writing. It’s a different part of the brain. It feels like an itch I can’t scratch.
      Playing an instrument would be a great idea. Living where we do, you’d probably need to pick a quiet instrument. No drums for you! 🙂
      I hope you can get back to writing soon.

      Like

  12. Your sticky notes are so whimsical and adorable, Jackie! I wish I could draw, and have always wanted to be able to paint. (But I didn’t just say that, because it sounds too much like those people who find out I write, and then tell me they have always wanted to write a book!).
    Swimming laps makes me calm and quiet. So does yoga.
    I just have to say: this post is awesome in every way!

    Like

    1. Swimming laps sounds like a great way to escape mind chatter. I imagine the rhythm of gliding through the water has a very calming effect.

      I’m working on new sticky note doodle of a mouse. 🙂

      Like

  13. I’m pretty envious of people with a quiet mind. Mine’s like a bumble bee most of the time.
    I think you’ve done a fair job on your house. I duly noted the shadows and the colours are lovely. What’s not to like? 🙂

    Like

What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s